Debunking Gen Z myths: Insights from Southeast Asia

Jan 25, 2024 | Publications

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There is a common misconception that Gen Z refers only to ‘the kids.’ However, this is far from the truth. There are already many individuals from this generation who have transitioned into young and mature adults and are entering the workforce. This is just one of the many myths we’ve encountered about Gen Z. After speaking with a diverse group of Gen Z individuals from Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, we have discovered several other misconceptions that need to be addressed.

Myth: Gen Z is sensitive and easily offended

Reframe: Gen Z expresses their boundaries and opinions while expecting respect.

In Southeast Asia, Gen Z demonstrates respect and a willingness to voice their opinions. They do not rebel or express themselves out of offense or being overly sensitive. Instead, they aim to establish boundaries and ensure that others treat them fairly. They challenge social and cultural norms with a genuine desire to make improvements and build upon the existing foundation rather than vilifying established ways.

“Some older colleagues may perceive us as rude, but it’s because the previous generation didn’t speak up, and I’m simply expressing myself to ensure work gets done. Many of us aren’t rebellious for the sake of rebellion; we want to show respect for what came before us. However, in order to continue evolving, we need to put our own spin on things and contribute to positive changes.” – Gen Z.

Myth: Gen Z is fearless

Reframe: Gen Z are willing to be vulnerable and actively choose to act despite their fears

There is a common myth that Gen Z is a fearless generation. However, the reality is quite different from what is often portrayed in advertisements. Gen Z, just like any other generation, experiences fear, anxiety, and insecurity. The difference is that they choose to act in spite of these feelings. They are willing to be vulnerable and challenge their comfort zones in order to connect with others. Their bravery lies in their ability to reframe situations and embrace vulnerability. For example, when they see their friends online on social media, they take the opportunity to reach out and say hello, even to those they haven’t connected with in a while. Gen Z understands that fear is a natural part of life, but they don’t let it hold them back.

“Gen Z may be seen as fearless, but that’s not entirely accurate. We have our fair share of anxieties, which is why we constantly explore different experiences to find spaces where we feel safe and supported.” – Gen Z

Myth: Gen Z is entitled

Reframe: Gen Z values fluidity in their thinking and seeks non-judgmental spaces

Gen Z seeks inclusivity, not only to empower representation but also to create safe spaces where they can freely express themselves. They desire areas in their lives, such as work environments or brands, where they can truly be themselves without judgment or pressure. Achieving this requires a willingness to listen to younger generations through practices like reverse mentoring and a flexible mindset. Sometimes, it’s as simple as acknowledging and accommodating their requests, like allowing naps at work. Gen Z simply wants the freedom to express who they are, even if it means navigating through the chaos and paradoxes of their self-discovery.

“I wear a hijab, so people often have expectations of how I should behave, especially in public spaces. However, I chose to ignore those expectations and shut them out. I go to bars with my friends, even though I don’t drink. I want to enjoy myself and not feel excluded. People may give me strange looks, but I choose to ignore them.” – Gen Z

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Myth: Gen Z are finicky trend hoppers

Reframe: Gen Z uses trends to explore new aspects of themselves and connect with a community

For Gen Z, trends are not just about following the crowd; they are opportunities for self-expression and finding meaning. They engage more with trends that allow them to add their personal touch, making it their own. They go beyond the surface to discover different facets of themselves, using trends as a quick and safe way to experiment. Trends are opportunities for them to potentially connect with new, like-minded, individuals. However, the trends that truly resonate with the Gen Z are the ones that resonate with them emotionally and provide comfort.

“I recently started crocheting because of a TikTok trend. It became a soothing experience that allowed me to create something that I can truly call my own, not because I wanted to impress others.” – Gen Z

“At times, we intentionally choose not to follow trends and instead find solace in alone time and journaling. It helps us understand ourselves better, rather than solely relying on others’ opinions. Striking that balance is necessary for our well-being. Embracing simplicity and comfort, not caring about the latest fashions, that’s my true identity.” – Gen Z

Myth: It’s hard to connect with Gen Z

Reframe: Gen Z openly welcomes conversation, seeking alignment with their values

Growing up in a rapidly changing world, Gen Z has developed a deep sense of inquiry and a constant need to challenge the status quo. They recognise that the challenges they face are global in scale and require collective action. As a result, they actively seek support and communities that align with their personal values. This can be seen in their expectations of brands, artists, and influencers—favoring those who genuinely engage with them and share their principles, like Taylor Swift and Sabrina Carpenter; who create connections through multi-level messaging and relatable content.

Gen Z places great importance on open dialogue and connection. They pay attention to which brands, artists, or personalities are receptive to conversation. To who truly listens to their customers, fans, or followers, and takes action to foster meaningful connections. They seek authenticity and consistency, not just in online interactions, but also in offline experiences.

“Brands are under constant scrutiny, as loyalty is not a given. However, being placed on a blacklist is a real consequence of slipping up. Brands must consistently meet the expectations of Gen Z to avoid being canceled.” – Gen Z Expert

“As a brand, having a strong online presence is crucial, but delivering a better offline experience is equally important. As a shop owner catering to the 14-20 age group, we know that it will not be successful if the offline experience falls short of the online presence. Social media is merely an extension; the primary experience lies offline.” – Gen Z Expert

Gen Z is a dynamic and forward-thinking generation. Their nuanced and varied perspectives, as we have seen in Southeast Asia, hold so much potential to open new ways of engaging with the world. They are full of vitality that encourages us to further explore and collaborate with them in meaningful ways.

For our part, we need to communicate with them in a manner that is open-minded, judgment-free, and actively engaged.

  • Build a dialogue with them when ideating campaigns.
  • Set up communities to keep brand & value-rooted conversations going.
  • Show that we are listening through tangible online and, especially, offline changes.

If we have learned anything at all about Gen Z, it is that they are already seeking out communities, people, and brands who want to speak, build, and change things with them. We just need to meet them halfway.

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